A remarkably astute historical depiction combined with an engrossing political drama.




In a work of historical fiction set in the first century B.C.E., Mariamne of Maccabee struggles to juggle her marriage to power-hungry Herod the Great with her loyalty to the Judea he wishes to conquer. 

Mariamne waits excitedly to hear her grandfather—Hyrcanus, the governor and high priest of Judea—announce to whom she will be wed. Given the parlous political times, she assumes it will be to another Maccabee to preserve the purity of the dynastic royal line from which she descends. Her world suddenly tilts when Hyrcanus announces that he’s chosen Herod, the governor of Galilee, an old man already married and largely considered a puppet of Rome and, most importantly, not a Maccabee. She protests the planned union, but her grandfather has already made up his mind, thinking the arrangement is the most effective way to secure the eventual ascension of her brother, Aris, now only a boy, to the Judean kingship. Herod unabashedly reveals his intentions to become the king, an admission that not only disgusts Mariamne, but floods her with ambition, not only for Aris, but for herself, an internal conflict sensitively portrayed by debut author Okun: “Queen Mariamne? I rather liked the sound of it. I could be the mother of kings. I could produce the man who wore the crown of Judea.” The author dramatically chronicles her precarious position, which only grows more dangerous as Herod perceives her disdain for him and begins to question her loyalties. Okun’s research is marvelously meticulous. She deftly unravels the complex political entanglements of the time. Moreover, she brings them to vivid life, detailing the frustration of Judeans with the arrogantly dismissive Roman rule. The heart of the tale, however, is Mariamne’s psychological depth. The author resists a hagiographic urge to transform her into a simplistic hero, a decision that ultimately makes her plight all the more deserving of empathy. Okun’s first novel is a rare combination of historical scrupulousness and fictional artistry.

A remarkably astute historical depiction combined with an engrossing political drama.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73398-831-5

Page Count: 346

Publisher: Palace Publishing LLC

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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